Red Letter Year: 7/15

Luke 7:36-50

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. 37 When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. 38 Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”

40 Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”

“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.

41 Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people — 500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. 42 But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”

43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”

“That’s right,” Jesus said. 44 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume. 47 I tell you, her sins — and they are many — have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”

48 Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?”

50 And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”


The other three Gospels all report that Jesus was (pre)anointed (for his burial) not long before his arrest by a woman while he was staying at Simon the Leper’s house in Bethany. This story bears some resemblance to that event, but it takes place in Simon the Pharisee’s house in Nain and occurs well before the arrest that leads to Jesus’ death. Other than these logistical differences, there are key things that make Luke’s story distinctive. The woman here is a “sinner of the city” which is likely a euphemism for a prostitute. She is one of the sinners Luke was talking about yesterday, the ones who are justifying God. It is not much of a reach to think she had been baptized by John and was so moved by Jesus’ affirmation of her repentance that she responds as she does here. We aren’t told when she repented, but Luke uses the perfect passive tense – she has already been forgiven of her sins when she barges into Simon’s house.

Her tears and kisses also set Luke’s account apart from the others. Only here does the woman cry – enough to wash the dirt off Jesus’ feet. And only here does she kiss Jesus’ feet. The way Jesus describes it in vv.44-45, she kept crying and kept kissing the whole time (Luke uses the imperfect tense here, ongoing action). She lets down her hair (an exposing, provocative act in that culture), dries Jesus feet with her tresses (John’s story has this), and pours the fragrant oil on his feet. Everything about her actions shows an extravagant affection for Jesus. She is reflecting back the love she has experienced from God. God has accepted her and forgiven her, which is quite the opposite of how her society has treated her.

We should note than then (not much unlike now), prostitution was not a glamorous lifestyle or one normally chosen voluntarily. This woman was likely either abandoned by her father or husband (either through neglect or death) or sold into prostitution by her father or master. Her economic choices were either very limited or perhaps she had no economic choice at all. Her life had most likely been a hell on earth, abandoned by the one who should have protected her, abused by her johns, and condemned by her religious leaders. Then John and Jesus enter her life and proclaim that God loves her, accepts her, and is building a new kingdom where she will not be subjected to such physical, emotional, and economic abuse. In the community of faith Luke will describe in Acts, she will either find a new husband who accepts her as Christ does, or she will be given provision along with the other widows. She will join the growing contingent of women who follow Jesus that Luke describes in the very next passage (8.1-3). The positioning of those verses was no accident.

By contrast, Simon does not even show Jesus the honor due a guest in his home according to the culture of the day. He does not have a servant wash Jesus’ feet. He does not greet Jesus with a kiss.  He did not offer oil for Jesus’ head. These were not mere oversights, they were deliberate insults. Simon does not accept Jesus. He calls Jesus “teacher” not “Lord” and questions (in his interior thoughts) Jesus’ prophetic status. Jesus demonstrates that he is a prophet by knowing the woman’s heart, reading Simon’s mind, and knowing Simon’s sin. Note in the parable that both debtors owed the lender money. In comparing Simon to the woman, Jesus names them both as sinners. Simon would not have missed being lumped together with a woman he so detested.

One more thing to note here. Jesus asks Simon, “Do you see this woman?” (v.44) Of course he saw her. What Jesus was asking was whether Simon could see her with prophetic vision. Clearly he could not. When Jesus declares her sins forgiven (v.48), he was not making a new declaration. She had already been forgiven. The declaration was as much for Simon’s (and the guests’) benefit as it was for hers. She was already forgiven and she already knew she was forgiven. Jesus was letting the rest of them in on what he and the woman already knew. The question should ring in our ears – Do we see the person in front of us? Do we really see them? Do we see their hearts? Do we see what God is doing in their lives? What God wants to do in their lives? Do we see past the cultural stigmas and quick condemnations? We can see them just as Jesus saw her – through eyes anointed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Then our eyes will be full of tears too.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Red Letter Year: 5/22

Matthew 23:27-39

27 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. 28 Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.

29 What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you build tombs for the prophets your ancestors killed, and you decorate the monuments of the godly people your ancestors destroyed. 30 Then you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would never have joined them in killing the prophets.’

31 But in saying that, you testify against yourselves that you are indeed the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead and finish what your ancestors started. 33 Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?

34 Therefore, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers of religious law. But you will kill some by crucifixion, and you will flog others with whips in your synagogues, chasing them from city to city. 35 As a result, you will be held responsible for the murder of all godly people of all time—from the murder of righteous Abel to the murder of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you killed in the Temple between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 I tell you the truth, this judgment will fall on this very generation.

37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. 38 And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate. 39 For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’”


The drawings from yesterday and today are both scenes of churchyards. Both show van Gogh’s critique of the church which is quite in line with the critique Jesus is leveling against the Pharisees and us in Matthew 23. The church loses its place as a hub of shared life as it becomes a monument of curated death. Embalmed self-righteousness takes the place of the Spirit breathing holy life into us. One of my favorite commentaries has this to say about Matthew 23:

“This is a sobering list of failure and judgment, with descriptions of hypocrisy and failure in which we cannot help but see ourselves. It is surely the case, for example, that many of us are kept from entering the kingdom by the lives we lead as Christians. Our problem is very simple – we simply do not know how to live as a people who believe that Jesus is the resurrected Lord. The joy and freedom that should name the lives of those freed from the demons become lost amid attempts to make our difference depend on matters that do not matter. We become adept at praising the prophets of the past, having lost the ability to discern the prophets among us.”  (Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew, 199)

We study prophets and radical leaders of prior generations (like Luther, Edwards, and Wesley), but we do so in a way that domesticates them and leaves us unprepared to receive radical prophetic words in our own day. We turn leading a Christian life into something that prevents us from entering the kingdom, keeps us from experiencing the freedom and joy Jesus brings for us. Woe to us indeed.

The New Living Translation (NLT)Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.